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Australia’s defence department keeps old PCs out of landfills

Department has securely wiped data from used devices and kept 1,300 tonnes of e-waste out of landfills

Australia’s Department of Defence has wiped and repurposed more than 110,000 old PCs, and processed a further 90,000 devices, such as monitors, printers and servers, instead of sending them to landfill sites.

The task was handled by Greenbox, an IT services company that won the A$5m contract to securely wipe data from used devices and keep 1,300 tonnes of equipment out of landfill.

The secure disposal of used equipment is a significant issue for enterprise computer users and Australia as a whole.

According to work conducted for the Victorian government by consultant Paul Randell and associates, 106 tonnes of televisions, computers and related products reached end of life in 2008. That figure soared to 138,000 tonnes by 2013 and continues to increase.

Australia’s national computer and TV recycling scheme was introduced in 2012 to increase the rate of recycling. A 2016 report indicated that 35% of old TVs and computers had been recycled, with ambitions to lift that number to 80% by 2025-26.

The Victorian government is going a step further and has signalled plans to outlaw e-waste from landfill entirely. Randell said: “There is a public commitment to ban this stuff going to landfill – but it’s hard.”

It is also hard to model exactly how much e-waste Australia has to deal with. Most estimates are based on an assumed lifespan following purchase, but that is now shifting with greater use of cloud services. Mobile devices now last much longer because they are access-only points, rather than computing workhorses.

Shane Mulholland, executive chairman and founder of Greenbox, said his business was preparing for a shift in demand as devices no longer stored the sensitive data they once did. Instead, he expected to start to pick up more work from cloud service providers that would need to dispose of their equipment at the end of life.

Mulholland said the company was already seeing rising demand from corporates for mobile phone and laptop “sanitisation” – which is more about wiping the data clean rather than disinfecting a handset.

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Greenbox, which employs 130 people – some of whom are cleared to handle old equipment from the defence department – works with larger firms with more than 500 employees. It has been in the IT asset lifecycle business for 18 years, and last year it recycled or repurposed 400,000 devices on behalf of customers.

Services include secure wiping of used equipment before resale, and recycling hardware. “We use a combination of software data destruction and physical destruction,” said Mulholland. “That’s degaussing to physical destruction into 3mm fragments.”

He said that the company had achieved Seri (Sustainable Electronics Recycling International) certification, which ensured that even the destroyed devices could be used as seed stock for remanufacturing purposes.

Where hardware is repurposed, it is sold on to second-hand computer resellers overseas because “Australians don’t typically like second-hand anything”, said Mulholland.

He added that there were very active global markets driven out of North America and the UK, which were able to sell second-hand equipment into markets such as Dubai and Eastern Europe.

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